Saturday 20 January 2018

Strange turn of the wheel sees Irvine land in the saddle

Cycle with friends sets Irish star on glory trail, writes Aisling Crowe

A seemingly ordinary event can shape your destiny, and for Martyn Irvine the moment that altered the path of his life happened at work.

Ireland's only track cyclist at London 2012 was introduced to cycling by colleagues in Shaws garage in Bangor, Co Down. Some of the staff in the garage and the valet department were keen mountain bikers and one summer's day when Martyn was 18 he tried out a bike. He was hooked straight away.

From that first bike ride, his interest increased rapidly and each link in the chain that would lead from his home in Newtownards to London solidified. Soon he was into Bikeworks in Newry for his first mountain bike and that purchase led him to the Ards cycling club for a time trial, where he finished in the top 10. From there he went training with the club and the following season went road racing, competing in his first open race at 19. Two years later, he was competing in Belgium.

"I wasn't really into any sport and had no interest in sport through school, but I liked something in cycling and it snowballed from there," he says. "I loved racing. I kept crashing and wrecking myself, but I loved it. I'm the black sheep in my family, there is no sport in the family."

Irvine's pursuit took off properly three years ago, when he decided to devote himself to cycling completely, even though he currently sees himself as a full-time amateur rather than a professional cyclist. He combines his track cycling with riding for a Taiwanese road team and he sees his future on the road, although the track will always be his cycling home.

The 27-year-old achieved Olympic qualification when he finished seventh in the Omnium at the World Track Championships in Melbourne in April.

"I was relieved to qualify but at the time it honestly didn't bother me too much. I got the job done and it was time to refocus on the next event. Every now and then it hits me though, and it's a nice feeling. It was at the back of mind for a long time that it was what I wanted to do and it's good to tick those boxes when you draw out a plan."

Relationships have had to suffer as he follows his Olympic dream. Irvine hasn't seen his family in months and trips back to his Dublin home to see Grace, his fiancée, are limited by his intensive schedule.

Mallorca has been his base since September. His coach has a house and gym with all the necessary facilities and the island provides him with the ideal training environment. He cycles on the roads and two or three times a week he travels to Palma for sessions in the velodrome. On Thursday, he leaves Majorca for the Olympic Village in London, with the memory of success in a track race in Italy last weekend to the forefront of his mind.

"Once I get to London I'll try and taper things down and stay out of the dramas and just freshen up. The majority of the work has been done now. The whole experience is exciting and I'm looking forward to it."

The Omnium is a new event on the Olympic schedule and its introduction has not been universally welcomed. It consists of six events, a flying lap, points race, elimination race, individual pursuit, scratch race and time trial and replaces many of the individual track races. Fewer medals will now be won on the cycling track than before, but Irvine believes he has a realistic chance of emerging from the velodrome with one of those precious metal discs.

"It's a kind of a dream realised. I've told everyone and anyone that a podium is possible. It's what I'm aiming for. I know I'm a rookie but I'm learning lots from every race I compete in. I came fourth in the pursuit at the Worlds and I'm pretty consistent at finishing in the top six. If I put my best performance together then a podium is definitely possible. That's why I get so excited about the Olympics. A medal is do-able and it's not a total dream for me."

When Martyn Irvine faces the starter for the first Omnium event in the velodrome on August 4, it will be the culmination of a journey that started with four wheels and transformed into two. A seemingly inconsequential moment has led him to the cusp of Olympic glory. "If I wasn't a car mechanic, I wouldn't be cycling."

Sunday Indo Sport

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